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What Design Can Do’s Richard van der Laken: “When it comes to inclusion Canada is the new guiding country”


Read this article on What Design Can Do’s website

Writers, senators, mayors, journalists, analysts, leaders of humanitarian organizations, UN officials, artists and social entrepreneurs, including Naomi Klein, the Aga Khan, and our very own Richard van der Laken, gathered in Toronto last week for the first edition of 6 Degrees, two days and three nights of cultures, debate and dialogue on inclusion and citizenship in the 21stcentury.

‘I was heavily impressed by the standing and the intellectual distinction of the people who gathered in Toronto’, WDCD’s co-founder Richard van der Laken says. ‘These were all heavy weights in the fields of social inclusion, citizenship, and integration who by the format of the conference were triggered to enter into high level discussions with each other. Which was very inspiring.’

6 Degrees was initiated by the Rt. Hon Adrienne Clarkson, former Governer General of Canada, and her husband, the writer John Ralston Saul. After stepping down from office Clarkson, who as a young child immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC). This organization inspires Canadians to be inclusive, embrace fresh thinking, practice active citizenship, and own their collective culture and spaces.


6 Degrees is meant as a response to the fact that societies everywhere in the world tend to get less, instead of more inclusive these days. The gathering ‘brings thinkers, doers, artists, politicians and civil society leaders together to talk about what is really happening in the world’, the website states.

‘This was not a conference with talks on a stage,’ says Richard. ‘Instead, we were brought together in different settings of discussions. Thinkers were put together on a round stage in groups of four surrounded by the public to discuss one of the conference teams Exodus, Inclusion and Prosperity. As panel members we had to give a statement of three minutes on the theme, on which eight so called “interveners” on the first row could respond. Sometimes the public could react as well.


‘There were also coffee table discussions in which we sat with eight people around a table to react on statements, called “provocations”. Afterwards we had to share our conclusions with other tables. All this worked extremely well. It was a great opportunity to meet with lots of interesting people. But it was also a great exercise for the brain and an excellent opportunity to form an opinion around the issues at hand. For me it was specially enlightening to experience how much Canada is ahead of us all when it comes to inclusion and citizenship.

‘In the Netherlands we have this idea that we are very much in support of tolerance and freedom, but in Toronto I’ve seen how inclusive and culturally diverse the Canadian society is. For sure, Canada is the new guiding country when it comes to these matters. Everywhere you sense the idea that cultural differences aren’t a problem, but instead a change for society. On many levels I was very much impressed.’

Top image: Richard van der Laken shares the stage with writer and moderator John Ralston Saul, Monia Mazigh (left), author and National Coordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and the Hon. Ratna Omidvar, Canadian Senator and international expert on migration. Not on the picture is the fourth panel member, Pete Sweetnam, Executive Director, Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS)